Using Adult SEL to Promote Equitable Opportunities for Educators and Students
“What can I practically do tomorrow with teachers? That’s a question I am left with after professional development, but that’s not a feeling I’m left with at all with EdSERT. It’s practical, research-based, and I can implement the resources from the modules immediately with the teachers I’m coaching.”– Danielle Ringold, instructional coach and licensing manager, Memphis Teacher Residency
Equitable education means ensuring all students have access to and receive the resources they need to be successful. While many systemic inequities exist within education, the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR) program is actively working to change that. MTR uses a coaching model for residents and graduates — recent college graduates and young professionals — who enter its teacher preparation program. During their resident year, program participants receive support from a mentor while they train and teach in a classroom within one of the 13 partner schools affiliated with MTR. At the end of their residency, they receive a master’s in urban education through Union University. Residents then commit the next three years of their career to working at a school within the program.
Larissa Gregory, social and emotional learning (SEL) department chair, said this is done strategically so that students have access to educators who return year-after-year and are invested in them.
“The hope is that students will have access to the same faces over and over again trained by the same program, so they have access to instruction similar to other educational institutions that aren’t accessible to them,” said Larissa.
Preservice teacher education programs currently offer few SEL-specific learning initiatives. Within the pre-existing structure of MTR, Larissa hoped to build out an SEL program with two pillars: one that is student-facing and one that is adult-facing, to better equip educators in the classroom.
“I was really seeking an experience for residents and graduates that could be based on their own learning and something they could then tailor and apply to their classrooms,” said Larissa.
Courtney Humphreys, department chair director, said balancing students’ SEL needs and academic needs, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, has been a real pressure point for teachers.
Danielle Ringold, instructional coach and licensing manager, agreed. As a seventh-year coach she said the need for SEL has always existed, but that need has grown even greater over the past year.
“Specifically in our work, there are limited resources and development opportunities for our teachers to strengthen their skillset to be able to address SEL needs of students,” said Danielle. “The request for these tools has increased more and more each year.”
Courtney continued, “Another kind of challenge we’re always addressing is how to merge theory and practice. Our residents learn all about pedagogy and content-based practices in their coursework. They’re working at a number of different school sites with a different number of mentors so they certainly aren’t going to have the same experience, but we want to provide opportunities for all of them that will set them up well for their graduate years.”
Larissa’s next steps were to investigate what resources already existed to expand SEL. Something she quickly found was that there was a lot of content that already existed, but it was scattered all over in various spaces across various products.
Larissa and Courtney hoped to find a central repository that combined all those valuable resources in one place. Then they found the Educator Social-Emotional Reflection and Training (EdSERT) program. EdSERT is a professional development program designed for use by school-based teachers and out-of-school time program staff working with children and youth in grades K-12.
EdSERT has two main goals: to improve the efficacy of SEL instruction and ultimately student outcomes by enhancing the social and emotional knowledge and skill sets of teachers, and to enhance teacher well-being through the development of social and emotional practices that increase coping skills, well-being, and resilience.
“We love how robust the EdSERT program is and that there are really specific strategies and resources that honored the teacher’s perspective. It also stood out because all the information was grounded in the CASEL competency framework,” said Courtney.
MTR piloted the print edition of the EdSERT program last year and Larissa explained there was a great response from graduates who participated.
“I saw changes in classroom practices because teachers saw and understood what SEL looked like for them and what it could look like when they applied the practices from EdSERT into their classroom approaches,” said Larissa.
She most heard that teachers hadn’t realized until EdSERT that SEL was for them, too, not just their students.
“There were several times while doing the workbook where teachers had ah-ha moments. They realized they were provoking things within the classroom rather than just being a part of the solution,” said Larissa. “We think about professional development where we sit down to review fluency or a skill for math, learn how to differentiate it, break it down, make it make sense, and then going to teach it, but we don’t do the same with SEL or the emotional intelligence side of things. I really liked having time for educators to sit down, see how these strategies applied to them personally, and then be able to bring them back to their classrooms.”
Keep reading to learn how Larissa Gregory and Courtney Humphreys of Memphis Teacher Residency:
Encouraged educators to rethink how they integrated SEL in class.
Re-established joy during the pandemic through EdSERT.
Promoted collaboration between educators.
Are preparing for continued use of EdSERT this fall.
MTR is encouraging teachers to think about SEL as practices that don’t exist separately from academics but are intertwined throughout.
“I teach an elementary math methods class. It’s interesting because I’ve been reading a good bit of research about humanizing mathematical spaces,” shared Courtney. “Historically, math has been taught in a way that’s very scary and really based on the memorization of procedures instead of sense making. I think there’s a tight connection between what we teach our teachers about how to create a humanizing math space that emphasizes both sense-making and procedures and SEL. I’m proud of the way our teachers are learning to create those spaces in mathematics and other content areas.”
It has been a hard year for many educators to feel joy. There was the disconnectedness through virtual learning, changes in routine, and additional stressors in educators’ personal lives as they balanced a new normal. Many educators saw the benefit of taking the time to dig deeper into the strategies suggested by EdSERT.
“It was a really powerful experience for teachers to reflect on themselves, that’s just key to SEL. You can’t teach something or share something you haven’t worked on for yourself. By creating space for that we saw really positive outcomes. One of the graduates I was coaching used the ‘teach boldly’ resource [which asks educators to examine biases and celebrate and promote diversity]. She reflected on how that helped her reestablish joy by examining her personal values, biases, and beliefs to reframe her interactions with students. She realized, and I think a lot of us are realizing, that SEL isn’t just a priority for students, but a focus for teachers, too,” said Danielle.
Creating a Community
In time with the switch to virtual learning came the EdSERT digital product, the twin to the print edition of the EdSERT program MTR piloted their first semester. After the pilot they were able to expand the number of educators that participated in the EdSERT program. This aligned with a goal Larissa had to strengthen the relationship between coaches and residents.
“We grew our coaching team’s SEL language which gave them tools to help coach their teachers. We also worked to strengthen the residents’ SEL vocabulary so they could engage in a more meaningful way with their coaches. EdSERT gave us a jumping off point for developing a shared vocabulary and shared toolkit for development,” said Larissa.
They adapted their in-person meetings that they held with the paper EdSERT to a virtual setting with the virtual product during the pandemic, too. She shared it was a great opportunity for those who did drop in to discuss what worked for people who had already used specific strategies, brainstorm ideas, and keep the community they had built in person connected.
MTR looks forward to continuing their relationship with Aperture going into the upcoming school year.
“Aperture has brought structure and vision to what MTR has been reaching for in terms of SEL supports. The structure, the self-paced guide, those things were helpful, and teachers were excited to be a part of it. Anything teachers are excited about I plan on getting excited about alongside them,” said Larissa.
“With SEL being newer to the world and to the organization, MTR has seen how important it is for teachers to be supported and teachers have seen how important it is for their kids to be supported with SEL. Coming back after the pandemic it will only be a more integral part of the day-to-day as teachers and students are seeking to be together again and seeking belonging, I’m hopeful for the future of MTR because of our solid foundation with EdSERT.”
About Aperture Education
Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 schools and out-of-school-time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social-emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The powerful data districts receive enables education leaders to take strategic action about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments which is lauded by researchers for its high standards for reliability and validity, and appreciated by educators for its ability to easily and quickly identify each student’s personal social-emotional strengths and areas of needed support. Aperture partners with industry curriculum leaders to deliver research-based, CASEL-informed intervention strategies to bolster specific areas of needed growth. Paired with robust reporting in one easy-to-use system, Aperture is often favored in districts nationwide. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.